You Need Oomph.
After listening to unsigned artists on YouTube, singing their songs in music videos, and then comparing that to people like 21 Pilots, Niall Horan, Gwen Stefani, Brothers Osborne, and other artists who have million of views and make their living from their music, one difference pops out to me.
Know what it is?
Those hit makers have oomph.
Yeah. It's like the hitmakers and successful artists have a weight, or a heaviness to them that the independent and unsigned artists do not. It's like they're pouring EVERY SINGLE OUNCE OF THEIR SOUL INTO IT. It's also a COMMITMENT to the music that comes before everything else in their life. You can feel it from them. You can sense it. It oozes out of them. But Oomph transcends genre. You don't have to be a 'loud' band to have it. You don't have to be Motorhead, or Prince, or Bowie. You can have Oomph as a folk singer. Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Joan Baez, Van Morrison and Johnny Cash had Oomph.
Johnny Cash might of had the most Oomph of all time. Who's more bad ass than him? Florida Georgia Line? Johnny Cash didn't even sing loud, he sang low, and he wasn't a fancy or high-maintenance man. But he was a complete badass. You knew he was a serious as a heart attack. He wasn't going to give up music and go sell cars if his fans stopped buying his records. He would play music to the grave, regardless. And that's exaclty what he did. Writing, recording, and performing right up until his death.
But of course it's true that being a great songwriter helps. You can have commitment, and be a total lunatic and brilliant performer, but if you have crappy songs, you will be playing to empty venues. So yes, you need good songs.
A lot of indie bands who make videos, singing in a field of lilies, slowing strumming acoustic guitars and playing with very little bite, angst, pain, passion or oomph. I don't know why they do this. I guess it's just easy to now get a camera, and go sing somewhere.. and then post it. But if you want to make a difference, you need to have that weight. Take this guy for instance, There's no way this guy (left) is as interesting, or as deep, or as moving as Elliott Smith (right):
There's just no way.
But I'm not saying you should be like Elliott Smith. Elliott was troubled. After a routine fight with his girlfriend, he stabbed himself in the chest to end his life. That's not a typo. He STABBED HIMSELF IN THE CHEST. But no one can take away his music, or has passion while he was here.
His Oomph lives on.
Chuck Berry had Oomph. 21 Pilots have Oomph. Marvyn Gaye, Gwen Stefani, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Marley all have or had Oomph.
Most successful artists have it.
What exactly is it?
It's the feeling that their lives depend on it.
Look at the legends. Their commitment is whole. Their "all-in" meter is 120% They're not confused why they're there. They want the limelight, and they know what to do with it when they get it. But fame isn't their ultimate goal. They are driven to share their art, to move people, to translate what they're feeling to you. To the rest of us.
And they do it like their lives depend on it. That's the difference.
I'll say it again.
They do it like their lives depend on it.
Look at Pete Townshend's face in the photo below. I guarantee you he was not thinking about s**t beyond that gig. That gig is everything to him. Nothing was on his mind except THAT night, THAT song, THAT jump. Nothing. Else. Just. That.
I'm not sure any of the artists below have any Oomph in their videos, EPs, streams or downloads. They probably all sing and play well. That's not the issue. I'm not saying they suck. I'm just pointing out the difference and the commitment level it takes to buy a cup of coffee from your royalties verses buying a house from them.
So if you want to just sing and play well, and do some live dates, and release your album on iTunes, that's pretty easy to do. The commitment level is low. You won't be viewed as a 'failure' to your family if you don't make it in music.
But if you want the opposite, if you want to risk failure, if you want to be like Alicia Keys, or Ed Sheeran, or Pharrell or or Maroon 5 and stake your claim to millions of followers around the globe, then you better get used to risk. But risk is exactly where you will find Oomph.
And it doesn't hurt to add a little Oomph every once in a while.